Thinking of unplugging on a rusticator vacation in Maine? Or need a dose of vintage seaside charm? If so, I have the perfect road trip itinerary for coastal Maine, often dubbed the "Lighthouse State."
The coast of Maine is abundantly beautiful, with secluded destinations, spectacular unspoiled scenery, and crisp bluebird days. As the border sign into Maine reads, "Maine: the way life should be."
In Maine, ocean waves crash against a craggy shores. You'll be dazzled by pristine beaches, boat filled harbors, classic New England townscapes, and rocky shorelines dotted with lighthouses. Lobster shacks and wild blueberries abound.
Maine is heavily forested, with a green canopy that's set ablaze with fall foliage. If you're looking to escape the crowds and fall back into nature and history, coastal Maine is the perfect destination.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park at sunset
Maine is really best enjoyed by car. A road trip is the perfect way to visit, experience, and fall in love with Maine. On a scenic drive, you can pick your own favorite ocean vista. Coastal Maine is one of the United States' most classic road trips and should definitely be on your US road trip bucket list.
Here's my travel guide for how to spend 10 days exploring Maine. This Maine road trip takes you down winding coastal roads from southern to northern Maine. I point out all the must see sites and must visit towns on the coast of Maine and give you tips for visiting Maine -- what to do and see, where to hike, where to stay, and where to eat.
In truth, you could spend weeks exploring Maine. You could easily turn this 10 day Maine itinerary into a 2-3 week itinerary, simply by staying longer at each destination and exploring at a slower pace. I've also added some bonus destinations at the end, in case you want to extend your coastal Maine road trip even further and explore other places in Maine.
Best Destinations For A Road Trip in Coastal Maine
This Maine road trip takes you from Portland in southern Maine to Bangor in northern Maine. To begin your trip to Maine, fly into in Portland International Jetport (only one hour from NYC). Downtown Portland is just a 20 minute drive from the airport.
You can also fly into Boston's Logan International Airport, which is a major hub. Portland is only two hours from Boston, an easy drive up Interstate 95. Or simply drive to Portland from your own home to begin your Maine road trip.
Here are the best places to leaf peep, shop, sightsee, eat, and stay between Portland and Bangor. The lobsters and blueberry muffins will be worth the entire trip, I promise.
cityscape of Portland Maine
Day 1-2: Portland
Portland is the perfect place to start your coastal Maine road trip. Located on a peninsula jutting into Casco Bay, Portland is a rare metropolis in a state filled with small hamlets.
Portland has myriad cultural offerings and is a bastion of historical preservation. The restored Old Port is a warren of cobbled streets, filled with vibrant Victorian buildings and buzzing farm to table eateries. Do some shopping on Exchange Street, were you can nab anything from fudge to fine crafts.
Downtown, there's a thriving art school, infusing the city streets with creative types. There are 24 commercial art galleries. Restaurants and coffee bars are filled with visual art. In June, the revived downtown hosts the Old Port Festival, described as "part freak show, part art festival, part fashion parade."
Opened in 1983, Portland's crown jewel and premiere art destination is the PortlandMuseum of Art, an architectural masterpiece designed by I.M. Pei of Louvre fame. Its innovative architecture allowed curators to redefine the art viewing experience.
Portland Head Lighthouse
The museum has an impressive collection of late 19th and early 20th century art, including works by Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Marsden Hartley. It also hosts traveling international exhibits.
Merrill Auditorium is the site of Portland's performing arts scene. It's an elegant restored concert hall, which houses the world famous Kotzschmar Memorial Organ. The venue hosts concerts by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, touring national theater companies, dance companies, and music acts. The Portland Opera Repertory also uses Merrill for full scale productions.
Portland also has plenty of outdoor hiking trails. An hour from Portland is the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail, which is a 3.6 mile trail strewn with wildflowers. To land on a beach, hike the meandering 3.8 trail from Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach. Just 30 minutes from Portland is Bradbury Mountain State Park, with an easy 1.9 mile trek on the Tote Road Loop.
Where to stay in Portland: Inn by the Sea, Black Point Inn, Chebeague Island Inn, Inn on Carlton, Pomegranate Inn, Press Hotel
Where to eat in Portland: The Honey Paw, Union at the Press Hotel, Solo Italiano, Woodford Food and Beverage, Eventide Oyster Co.
railroad bridge over the Androscoggin River in Brunswick
Day 3: Freeport | Brunswick | Boothbay Harbor
Have breakfast at Standard Baking Company in Portland, for some artisanal baked goods. 20 minutes from Portland, take a slight detour to see the historic lighthouse on Cape Elizabeth. Commissioned by George Washington and set amid flowering fields, this classic landmark is Maine’s oldest lighthouse.
Then, amble on to Brunswick on US 1. On your way, check out the retail outlets of Freeport Maine, the home of LL Bean's flagship store. Almost 3 million people visit this famous store every year.
10 miles north of Freeport is Brunswick. Brunswick is home to Bowdoin University and the fabulous Bowdoin College Museum of Art. In the museum, you'll find works by famed 19th century artist Winslow Homer. Bowdoin College also owns the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, a National Historic Landmark and the former home of the antislavery novelist.
To get outdoors in Brunswick, you can hike the 6 mile Town Commons Trail, which starts near Bowdoin. Or just walk around the beautiful college campus and admire the historic architecture. Beach lovers can head to Thomas Point Beach, which has nice picnic areas.
Our Lady Queen of Peace catholic church on the shore of Boothbay Harbor Maine
Another 45 minutes down the road is the mid-coast seaside gem of Boothbay Harbor. Boothbay Harbor is one of New England's most adorable small towns, known as the "boating capital" of Maine. Ferry over to Brunt Island, where you can hike and admire the lighthouse. Or reconnect with nature at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
Boothbay Harbor's quaint downtown is filled with shops and cafes, including Maine's oldest bookstore, Sherman's Maine Coast Book Shop. If it's time for a lobster roll, pop into the Lobster Dock or Shannon's Unshelled.
Overnight in either Brunswick or Boothbay Harbor. Brunswick is closer to your next destination, Bath, just 10 minutes away.
Where to stay in Brunswick: Harraseeket Harbor Resort, Kendall Tavern Bed & Breakfast
Where to eat in Brunswick: Enoteca Athena, El Camino Cantina, Tao Yuan, The Great Impasta, Frontier
Where to stay in Boothbay Harbor: Spruce Point Inn Resort & Spa, Five Gables Inn, Harbour Towne Inn, Blue Heron Seaside Inn
Where to eat in Boothbay Harbor: Ports of Italy, Boathouse Bistro, The Thistle Inn
Bath is a city in southwestern Maine, lying along the Kennebec River
Day 4: Bath
Bath is Maine's shipbuilding capital, boasting a beautiful waterfront. Bath is full of grand 19th century homes -- a mix of Federal, Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italianate styles.
Bath's historic district boasts one of America's great streets, Front Street. It's chock full of tony boutiques and antique shops. One Sunday a month is the Bath Antique Show.
No trip to Bath is complete without visiting the Maine Maritime Museum. It's a cluster of buildings that were once a historic shipyard. Inside, you'll learn about the world of shipbuilding through exhibits, models, paintings, and artifacts. In the summer, museum boat tours cruise the Kennebec River.
craggy coastline at Reid State Park
Mile Beach at Reid State Park
Just 15 minutes away from downtown Bath is Reid State Park. This is where you'll find Maine's best sandy beaches (a rarity in Maine) lining Sheepscot Bay -- Mile Beach and Half Mile Beach. It's a great stretch of sandy beach with a pounding surf. If some beach time is on your Maine agenda, this is where you should indulge.
For a truly spectacular vista, make your way to Griffith Head, a rocky headland overlooking the park. Or boat out to Seguin Island to see Maine's tallest lighthouse.
Where to stay in Bath: Kennebec Inn, Pryor House B&B, Benjamin F. Packard House Bed and Breakfast, The Inn at Bath,
Where to eat in Bath: Mae's Cafe & Bakery, Osprey Restaurant, Starlight Cafe, J.R. Maxwell and Co.
A wooden swing bench facing the Damariscotta River
Day 5: Wiscasset | Damariscotta | Rockland
Continue your Maine road trip by driving north to get back one Route 1. You'll meander through the pretty towns of Wiscasset and Damariscotta. This is where you can soak up Maine's quaint village vibe.
Wiscasset styles itself Maine's prettiest village. The town boasts some of Maine's most important architectural landmarks and an utterly charming main street. And it's home to Red's Eats, one of Maine's famous lobster shacks. (There will be lines in summer.)
Damariscotta is also lovely, surrounded by salt marshes, tide pools, oyster beds, and the Damariscotta River. The tiny hamlet overlooks the snug harbor and is filled with historic brick architecture. For a real Maine country feel, stop in for lunch at S. Fernald's Country Store for an "eggs in a frame" sandwhich. Or fill up on oysters and mussels in the local restaurants.
One hour further down the road is the arty town of Rockland, where you'll spend your fifth night on your Maine road trip.
Where to stay in Rockland: Inn at Ocean's Edge, Inn at Sunrise Point
Where to eat in Rockland: Archer's on the Pier, Cafe Miranda, Primo Restaurant, Rustica
Rockland Harbor Breakwater Lighthouse
Day 6: Rockland
Fuel up in the morning with breakfast at Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland. You've got a busy day ahead.
Rockland is a historic waterfront town on the shores of Penobscot Bay. The entire bay area is loaded with artists, galleries, and community theaters. The Rockland Breakwater Lighthouseis a highlight of the town. In the first week of August, Rockland hosts the popular Maine Lobster Festival.
The main building of the Farnsworth Art Museum houses art works by Andrew Wyeth, George Bellows, Milton Avery, and Robert Indiana. An entire room of canvases depicts ships at sea and coastal imagery, paying homage to the region.
Bunk overnight in Rockland again.
Day 7: Camden
On day 7, drive 15-20 minutes north to Camden. Camden is a seaside jewel on the coast of Maine. The town is a mecca for sailing. And Camden offers a beguiling nexus of art, dining, and outdoor play. It fulfills Maine's slogan of "the way life should be."
Camden has a charming historic district. It's set on a rising hill and lined with historic 19th century architecture. You'll find shops, boutiques and cafes housed in wooden historic buildings. Stop by the Smiling Cow, the Cashmere Goat, the Owl & Turtle Bookshop, and the Leather Bench for some unique gift ideas.
Camden's pretty Front Street, quite at night
At the end of the strip is the pretty brick Camden Public Library, which has a lawn with benches set above the harbor. You can admire a fantastic collection of photogenic schooners, sailboats, and yachts.
No visit to Camden is complete without taking in the view from Mount Battie. Take the 1.4 mile trail and road. At the top, you have a hawk's eye view of Camden and the islands of Penobscot Bay. If you want to hit the beach, try Barret's Cove, a fresh water beach on Megunticook Lake. It's even quiet in the summer months.
Where to eat in Camden: Fresh and Go, Oliver's Bistro, Long Grain, Primo
Where to stay in Camden: Camden Harbour Inn, Hartstone Inn & Hideaway, Inn at Sunrise Point, 16 Bay View
buoy-decorated lobster shop in Bar Harbor
Day 8: Bar Harbor
On day 8, drive 1:45 from Camden to the beautiful resort town of Bar Harbor, where cool breezes blow away the summer heat. Perched on Frenchman Bay, Bar Harbor is a charming seaside town in New England.
Bar Harbor is adjacent to magnificent Acadia National Park, and makes a good base. The town's name derives from the twice daily tide drop, when a gravelly sand bar appears creating a natural harbor.
Take a stroll down West Street, a designated historic district. You'll see some fine old shingle-style mansions that survived the fire of 1947. The Village Green hosts concerts and art shows. The Abbe Museum is devoted to Maine's Native American heritage.
aerial view of Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is the perfect place to go kayaking or boating. You can hike Great Meadow Loop, which starts at the Village Green. Or stroll the shore path along Frenchman's Bay, which includes a self-guided tour marked with signs telling the history of Bar Harbor. And don't forget to have some lobster or go whale watching.
End your day in Bar Harbor with a sunset cruise of Frenchman's Bay. Hop on the Downeast Windjammer, which leaves from the pier.
Where to eat in Bar Harbor: Burning Tree, Havana, , Mache Bistro, Side Street Cafe, Thurston's Lobster Pound, Beale's, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
Where to stay in Bar Harbor: Bar Harbor Grand Hotel, The Bluenose Inn, Bar Harbor Inn & Spa, Ullikana Inn
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park at sunset
Day 9: Acadia National Park
Maine’s 35,000 acre Acadia National Park is dubbed the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.” The splendid park definitely lives up to its moniker, with a vast pine-studded landscape. The average park visit is 3-4 days. But you can absolutely enjoy the park on a well-planned day trip from Bar Harbor.
Acadia is located just southwest of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. Fuel up at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast in Bar Harbor before venturing out. As soon as you arrive, you'll understand why the likes of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Brooke Astor vacationed here in the 20th century.
If you’re pressed for time, make sure you see one thing at Acadia National Park -- Cadillac Mountain. You can access it by foot, car (a winding 3.5 miles), or bike via Summit Road. This incredible mountain is actually the highest point along the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.
Sunrise from the Summit of Mount Cadillac
Thunder Hole, a must see site in Maine's Acadia National Park
Another can’t miss spot on your Acadia National Park itinerary is Thunder Hole. If you experience it during high tide, you can see crashing waves funneling up through the center of the rocks.
The three best hikes in Acadia are Jordan Pond Shore Trail (3.3 miles), Ocean Path (2 miles), and Bubble Rock (1.5 miles). Cap off your Acadia trip by visiting Sand Beach. The water is always frigid cold. But you can walk the beach and enjoy the views.
You can overnight in Acadia National Park or head back to Bar Harbor to bunk down for the night. If you want to whet your whistle before leaving Acadia, make your way to the northern point of the island. Stop in at Atlantic Brewing Company. Set on a ten acre farm, this excellent craft brewery focuses exclusively on ales.
Where to stay in Acadia National Park: Asticou Inn, Jordan Pond House,
Where to eat in Acadia National Park: Jordan Pond House, Helen's, The Blue Bird Ranch Restaurant
Pro tip: There aren't many dining options in the park. It's really better to head back to Bar Harbor for dinner.
Stephen King's house in Bangor
Day 10: Bangor
End your trip in Bangor, the second largest city in Maine and unofficial capital of the north. Underrated Bangor has seen a resurgence in tourism as of late, especially with its thriving restaurant scene. Because Bangor has an international airport, it's also a good place to fly out of if you're heading back home after your Maine road trip.
Bangor has a revitalized waterfront. From July to October, you can take in a concert at the outdoor amphitheater, Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. Bangor's American Folk Festival draws crowds in late August. And you can check out the massive Paul Bunyan statue, reminding you that lumber was once the state's main export.
the town of Bangor, with the Hammond Street Congregational Church
For an eerie experience, wander by Stephen King's eccentric house. The famed horror novelist has lived in Bangor for many years. The red and white house is front and center, with a macabre wrought iron fence featuring spiders, bars, and a three headed reptile. You can take a private tour of Bangor's Stephen King sites with SK Tours of Maine.
If you need a dose of culture, Bangor delivers. You can visit the Maine DiscoveryMuseum, with many interactive exhibits. Or head to the Zillman Art Museum (formerly the University of Maine Museum of Art), which features modern and contemporary art and is free to the public.
Where to stay in Bangor: The Charles Inn, The Lucerne Inn
Where to eat in Bangor: Thistles Restaurant, Novio's, The Lobstah Buoy, The Fiddlehead Restaurant, Massino's Cucina Italiana
wild blueberries in Maine
Extra Time On Your Maine Road Trip?
If you have extra time, I have some bonus destinations in Maine that are completely worth a visit. But first, if you have more vacation days, spend another day or two in Acadia National Park. There's so many things to do there, you could keep busy for days.
Alternatively, from Bangor, head to either the town of Eastport (for culture) or to Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec (for the great outdoors).
The scenic village of Eastport is surely one of New England's most picturesque towns, like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Situated on a peninsula on pristine Moose Island, Eastport is a world apart. Eastport has historic architecture, a vibrant local art scene, and lobster galore.
While there, you can visit Shackford Head State Park, with miles of hiking
trails. Or you can go on a whale watching tour in Passamaquoddy Bay. In the summer, the sea breezes bring flocks of sea birds, so bird watching is a good option too.
Eastport Maine, historic waterfront district
In the easternmost tip of Maine, you'll find the West Quoddy Head Light, one of 60 lighthouses dotting Maine's coastline. The Quoddy park has a cliff walk, a bog walk, rare plants, and spectacular views. If you're lucky, you may spot a whale. Quoddy is remote and utterly quiet, perfect for frazzled urbanites.
If skiing is on your Maine to do list, head to Sugarloaf Mountain. Open from 8 am until sunset, this natural landmark features striking landscape views. After taking lifts to the top of Sugarloaf and exploring the park, you can check out the nearby small towns.
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec
When Is The Best Time To Visit Maine?
The fall foliage in New England is spectacular. When the leaves change, Maine is aglow with fiery orange, yellow and red hues from its maples, oaks, elms and birch trees. This makes September and October an ideal time to visit. But fall always arrives at different times. Click here for a New England fall foliage tracker.
Myself, I also love the languid late summer for a visit to Maine, and had many as a child. Summer starts later in Maine, really kicking off on July 4th. Be forewarned, traffic on Route 1 can get congested in the summer-fall seasons.
If you'd like to take other US road trips or need some US destination inspiration, I have other guides you can peruse: